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Today’s tip is to consider disabilities in preparing an emergency exit plan. Could everyone who uses your building safely evacuate without using stairs in an emergency?
Not counting individuals with obvious physical disabilities, consider individuals with a heart condition, a breathing condition, a panic disorder, or a hearing loss. Or perhaps a young person who just had surgery and is on crutches works on the 30th floor of the building. People come in and out without disclosing much, if any, information about their needs.
A competent professional who understands the needs of individuals with all types of disabilities, as well as the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), can collect information about emergency-alarm systems and emergency-communications systems systematically during a thorough ADA evaluation.
Managers are ready for the next step — education and communication — once they know the emergency components a building will support, including areas of rescue assistance; emergency-communication systems that meet the needs of persons with hearing disabilities; visual alarms where required; identification of assistive equipment, such as evacuation chairs; and an emergency-response team with floor wardens.
What planners need to know is, "Would you need assistance in evacuating the building if the elevators were shut down?" That question does not intrude into anyone’s personal disability or business, but it begins the dialogue. But managers should preface that question with a great deal of education and outreach about the efforts to ensure the safety of the building and its occupants.
The next big step is planning and implementing regular drills. Arguments abound among employers and tenants about scheduled fire drills, and many people leave the building shortly before the alarms are scheduled to go off. For this reason, managers should consider periodic, unplanned drills.
If this all seems a bit overwhelming, it can be, especially for managers more accustomed to dealing with facility issues. The solution is a planning process that includes sufficient time, along with proper attention to detail, care, and diligence.